In Which I Attempt to Propose a New Law

We'll call this one "Tom's First Law of Ham-Handedness":

Upon the emergence of any new media type with significant penetration, the first attempts at corporate marketing through it will be marked by an attempt to adapt it to the broadcast model of advertising.

Earlier this year, I sat through an infuriating presentation at OMMA at which a marketer described how 100,000 people linked to a fake MySpace profile, thus "making friends" with the Wendy's Square. Great. That and a $2 MetroCard will get you on the subway.

At the time, I remember being infuriated at how this was actually passing for marketing, but I was further incensed by the notion of what Wendy's might have achieved if they had taken the time to actually talk to people through social networks instead of leaving a fake profile out there for people to link to. Through working with a few of our clients on Conversational Marketing initiatives, I know that actually taking the time to listen can result in a lot of changed minds. Now we've got case studies we're taking out to the market, and it's becoming obvious that the things that change minds are:

  • A demonstrated willingness to listen
  • A commitment to the conversation

So 100,000 people linked to a fast food mascot? Frankly, so the hell what? Did that make more people fans of Wendy's? Did it get more people to come in the door and order food? It's more likely that the people linking to the Wendy's square were already fans of the brand.

What if the Wendy's square was instead a guy named Bob who managed a Wendy's in Duluth, and he encouraged people to stop by his MySpace page and post suggestions there? Furthermore, what if he consistently demonstrated that he took those suggestions back to his restaurant and applied them, so the ketchup dispenser wasn't so gross and the bathrooms were cleaner. What if Bob demonstrated that he actually cared what his customers thought?

Well, then we wouldn't be having idiotic discussions at OMMA about how 100,000 people linking to a fake MySpace page is a successful marketing tactic.

Here's the thing that bugs me about the First Law. When marketers try to turn everything into a broadcast medium, they don't simply erode trust in their individual brands, they erode trust in companies in general. We're seeing a lot of talk about how fake profiles are ruining MySpace. It gets blamed on corporate intrusion, but what people are really pissed about is that it's corporate intrusion by corporations that don't listen.

By way of example, let's start with this article on iMedia about five corporate marketers taking a giant whiz on MySpace. It starts with a discussion about Jack In The Box's MySpace page, which as of this writing contains links to videos, a bunch of comments from people linking to the site (which, in a remarkable coincidence, are 100 percent positive), and some lame corporate attempt at copywriting for the young adult market. Here are a few lines from the site describing Jack's "interests"...

I like making people smile by serving them tasty fast food, served in a jiffy for a great price.

Now that we've got the corporate mission statement out of the way, let's see what Jack's musical interests are:

Few people know I used to be a rock guitarist. But all that playing was messing with my burger flipping hand so I had to hang up the axe (that's cool musician slang for guitar). My favorite song I wrote was called "Baby Got Jack". You might be able to find it somewhere on the web. It's really catchy. Now that I'm retired from playing music I like listening to Meatloaf. Go figure.

Cheesy copywriting alone won't make something lame. It's not the cheesiness I have a problem with. It's the lame attempt at keeping things "on message" I have a problem with. It's also the notion that even though people have gotten sick from eating Jack in the Box food on many different occasions, everything on the site seems to be positive. Where are the negative comments? Where's the discussion? Where's the dialogue with customers that would make this site have any sort of foundation in reality?

Of course, since fake MySpace profiles are so "successful" - as evidenced by the over 180,000 people linking to the Jack In The Box page - that other companies see this and decide they have to have a fake profile of their own. And then you have general distrust of companies all across MySpace because instead of a place for dialogue, MySpace is becoming a haven for corporate marketers wearing earplugs.

It's no wonder people have been saying MySpace has jumped the shark.